Enough is enough. Since we joined the Big Ten in 1993, we have played Michigan in Ann Arbor seven times. Michigan has won five times. We have won twice. The last time was 1996. I have witnessed six of those games in Ann Arbor. Terry has witnessed seven. So right now, I have witnessed only one win at the Big House in six visits. 1996. Terry has witnessed two wins: 1994 and 1996. The rest of those trips have been losses. Yet somehow we keep going back, and tomorrow we leave for Ann Arbor more optimistic about our chances that we might finally succeed in putting those losses behind us. Especially 2005!
Credit my dear nephew David for my 1994 absence. David and his wife MaryBeth decided to get married in Boston on October 15, 1994. Terry refused to miss the first ever Penn State-Michigan game in Ann Arbor. So he went to the game, I went to the wedding. My family has never quite forgiven Terry for that, but that’s another story...I digress.
In any case, since 1996 we’ve had a bad run of luck at Ann Arbor. Five times in a row we have lost there. In fact the entire series with Michigan is 10-4 in favor of Michigan. Three of those four games were won between 1994-1996. The fourth win was last year, 2008, at Beaver Stadium, and we dominated 46-17. Finally a win that broke a long losing streak!
The most painful loss, of course, was 2005. We were ahead 25-21 with one lousy second left on the clock, and Michigan found a way to win on fourth down with a TD pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningheim. The game was over and we lost 27-25. I don’t usually cry when we lose, because usually by the end of a game it’s a slow realization that time is running out and that we will lose. But that game, I thought we might have it. Especially with only one second left on the clock, Michigan’s chances were slim. So with that incredible pass play, I found tears flowing at the end of that game. It was very hard to accept.
But I also have another perspective, and Penn State fans are going to hate what I have to say next. That 2005 game, despite the loss, stands in my memory as one of the most exciting games I’ve ever witnessed in the years I’ve been following college football. It’s definitely in my Top 5 of my all-time favorite football games. #1 for me was the 9-0 Homecoming shutout game at Alabama in 1990. #2 would be the 63-14 win against Ohio State in 1994. #3 would be the 1992 42-17 Fiesta Bowl win against Tennessee. The 2005 Michigan game would be next.
Why would a loss be ranked so high? My reasoning is simple. It was an amazingly competitive battle, especially in the fourth quarter.
Entering the fourth quarter, Michigan led 10-3. Terry and I were not happy but there was still plenty of time to win the game.
It had been, so far, a defensive battle. But the offense for both teams awoke in the fourth quarter, and the defense for both teams kept up their pressure.
With 11:56 to play, Penn State tied the score, helped by a 61-yard run by Tony Hunt. Terry and I started to have some hope, but we knew there was a lot of time left.
17 seconds later Alan Zemaitis forced a Michigan turnover and ran the ball in for a touchdown. The extra point snap was bobbled but kicker Kevin Kelly somehow managed to grab the ball and run into the end zone for 2 points. The score was 18-10.
Terry and I were ecstatic. We were ahead 18-10. That helped a lot! There was still a lot of time left on the clock, but remember it had been a low scoring game.
Then Michigan drove, scored a touchdown, and made their two-point conversion. The score was tied 18-18. 9:32 left on the clock. We were dismayed.
Penn State couldn’t move the ball on their next possession, then Michigan had another drive that resulted in a field goal. The score was 21-18 in Michigan’s favor. There was 3:45 left to play. We were distressed, but there was still enough time to turn it around.
On Penn State’s next possession they turned over the ball to Michigan. Disaster! We were running out of time! We were going to lose.
Then PSU’s defense stepped up and forced a 3-and-out. Michael Robinson led Penn State on an amazing 81-yard drive with no time-outs left, and he scored another touchdown. There was 53 seconds left on the clock.
The score was 25-21 in favor of Penn State. Terry and I were ecstatic again. Victory was in our grasp. We thought we had it. Michigan had to score a touchdown to win now, had to drive the length of the field, and the clock was in our favor.
But Steve Breaston had a 41-yard kickoff return to the UM 47-yard line. With very little time left. Michigan advanced to the PSU 10-yard line. One second left and one more play. If we can just defend one pass play, we will win. Very tense.
But Henne and Manningheim connected, Michigan scored that touchdown and they won the game 27-25. Penn State fell short. All our hope deflated. We lost.
Despite the tears I shed that day, the reason I love that game is that neither team quit. Penn State did everything they possibly could to win that game. They played their hearts out. So did Michigan. Both teams left everything they had on the field. Both teams played with soul, and incredible determination to win, on both sides of the ball. Neither team deserved to lose, but one team had to. It turned out to be Penn State. It could have just as easily been Michigan.
And that, in my humble opinion, is what great college football is all about. When you witness that sort of game it’s an amazing experience, with all its up-and-down emotion. You see your team perform at its very best against the toughest competition, and know that the team gave it everything they had.
What more can you ask for? A win obviously would have been great! We could also ask for a game that wasn’t influenced by questionable officiating late in the game. Instant replay might have made a difference if it had existed then.
But the 2005 loss at Michigan doesn’t take away any pride we felt for how Penn State played the game that day. They were phenomenal, and they went on to have an incredible season that was a complete turnaround from the prior two losing seasons. A Big Ten Championship, a BCS Orange Bowl bid, and then another stunning triple-overtime win against Florida State. It was a season that would bring Penn State back to the national forefront, turn our recruiting around, and secure Joe Paterno’s legacy in college football. It was a season that provided sweet vindication for four of five losing seasons where the patience and faith of Penn State fans (and the players and coaches) were severely tested.
Let’s go to Michigan this week and win. As Terry would say, it’s time to come home from Ann Arbor bearing our shields rather than on them!